I am 19 years old and it is the smack dab middle of summer and I am sitting outside—al fresco—at my parents’ favorite restaurant at a small, round, wrought iron table on an uneven slab of cobblestone bricks. Ropes of twinkle lights hang above our heads and spool in circles around lush green plants in terra cotta pots in the corners of the courtyard. The stemware here is so thin I imagine one gust of air from a sneeze might shatter my glass into a million tiny pieces.

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Blue Point restaurant is named after the oyster, not the Siamese cat. My parents have been coming here for years. Decades, in fact. It is where they have Saturday night dates and share a bottle of chilled pinot gris and Caesar salad. My dad uses the prongs of his fork to lift the anchovies off his plate and gifts them to my mother. This is where we host my mom’s gaggle of siblings for briny vodka martinis and steamed lobsters with ramekins of butter the night after Thanksgiving. One time, my aunt ordered a glass of port for herself and a round for the couple at the table to our right. My parents usually paid the bill. We ended our evenings with ice-cold slices of key lime pie.

Tonight it is just the three of us. Me. Mom. Dad. My mom is making a confession.

She forgot to go in for her annual appointment two years in a row, and after finally making a visit, there is a test that returned with an abnormality. It’s nothing to worry over, just a flag on an annual exam. But for some reason, I am furious with her. Furious. “Mom, how could you do that?” I ask, my brow furrowed. My tone sharp. As it turns out, the abnormality doesn’t merit more than one follow-up with her doctor. But it stirs a premonition inside of me. A primal deeply-rooted fear. One day my mother will be gone.

In two more years, it will be the first Saturday in February and we will be celebrating my 21st birthday at a white tablecloth four-top in a mahogany-walled seafood house downtown. The air outside the windows so cold little webs of frost grow on the glass-like doilies of lace. There are heaps of dirty snow piled up on city streets outside. It will be the first night I can legally order a drink and this feels very special in spite of me flashing a fake ID around town for three years.

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I will order a plate of buttermilk-fried calamari and a grilled piece of snapper with a lump of crabmeat on top. My mom will order grilled fish and mashed potatoes, but she will not take a single bite. She is between chemotherapy treatments and her appetite is all but gone. After our meal, we will walk through the carpeted hallways to the parking lot where my dad parked his car, and she will excuse herself for a moment so she can vomit over a faux green plant in a knee-high pot.

That will be my second to last birthday with her.

We will not go to a seafood restaurant again.

Alyssa Shultis

I am a writer and chef in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Minnesota.